I first met Schuyler when he was 15 years old and I had been dating his dad for about a year. Stu had explained to me that Schuyler has Asperger’s, which is a form of high functioning autism, but I really had no idea what to expect – of course I've seen Rain Man like everyone else, but from what Stu told me about Schuyler I knew that I shouldn’t expect a Raymond-type character. When we met I was pleasantly surprised when Schuyler shook my hand, made eye contact and we had a good conversation over lunch. This kid was supposed to have challenges? As I got to know him better, I began to understand what some of them were and how unhappy they could make him.
After that first encounter with someone with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), we were in the Poconos a few years later, waiting with a group to start white water rafting. This teenager threw what I can only call a tantrum, yelling and stomping around, swearing at his parents and finally storming off. Stu only commented, “That was Schuyler a few years ago.” As we climbed onto our rafts, I mulled over some of the challenges a family faces when parenting, growing up with, or, for that matter, going on vacation with, someone with ASD. 75% of them actually don’t go on vacation at all. Let’s face it – planning and going on a vacation with your family can be a little stressful at the best of times. Throw in the unpredictability of traveling with a child with ASD, and it’s unsurprising that many families just decide to stay home.
A few months ago, an email from IBCCES came across my desk. IBCCES is an organization that trains and certifies people who work with individuals with special needs and cognitive disorders. They were offering a Certified Autism Travel Professional (CATP) training. Intrigued, I read up about it, and decided to take it.
IBCCES’s CATP certification focuses on two aspects: raising awareness around behaviors caused by ASD, and educating the travel professional on the tools available to them in this situation.
Did you know that the TSA has a special hotline that you can call if you need accommodations at the airport? Have you heard that there is actually a resort in the Caribbean that put its entire staff through autism awareness training? Think of the relief for the parents as they relax by the pool, knowing that the hotel staff will take extra special care of their child. Some European tour companies even specialize in vacations for people with cognitive disorders.
As a travel advisor, I’m so pleased to be able to contribute to making life just a little bit easier for parents of ASD children, especially since this is something that is close to my heart. Please contact us through www.destinationuncharted.com to discuss how we can create a stress-free vacation for you.
Meanwhile, Schuyler’s story has a happy ending (which is really just a beginning). Fast forward 9 years, and Stu and I are about to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. Schuyler has his ups and downs, but lives by himself and attends community college. His apartment is tidier than the average 23-year-old bachelor’s. We’re very proud of him.